Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Media Studies


Fiona Chew


anecdotes, autism, blogging, credibility, health communication, journalism

Subject Categories

Mass Communication


This study examines source type, citation accuracy, and anecdotal reliance in parenting blog articles about the autism/vaccine controversy. Existing literature on common errors and shortcomings of traditional health journalism, in conjunction with existing guidelines and suggestions for optimal health journalism practices, were used to synthesize a content analysis code structure. The code structure was used to examine 122 parenting blog posts from 18 different blogs, spanning a time period from June 22, 2005 to January 9, 2012, for details including the following:

  • author demographics (gender, profession, parenthood, vaccination patterns)
  • type of blog the article appeared in
  • author stance of the autism/vaccine link (support, reject, or conflicted)
  • inclusion of cited sources in the form of hyperlinks, whether links were cited correctly, and which sources the links represented (blog, news article, medical research, etc)
  • inclusion of anecdotal evidence
  • whether sources and anecdotes were used to support or refute the autism/vaccine link.

Two coders (intercoder reliability 0.80 or higher for all variables) were used to analyze the blog sample. A statistical analysis including frequency descriptives, Pearson's correlation coefficient, one-way ANOVA, and independent t-tests were used to analyze the data.

A demographic overview of the blogs revealed that the majority of the sampled authors were mothers with no health or science background, and that most did not believe that a relationship between vaccines and autism exists. An examination of the sources revealed that while most sources were cited correctly, the incorrectly-cited sources mirrored traditional journalism flaws. The statistical analyses revealed significant relationships between blog type and number of statements that supported the autism/vaccine link; and between the author's opinion on the autism/vaccine link and the number of "neutral" hyperlinks (not used to support or refute the autism/vaccine link).

While the realm of parenting blogs as medical information source merits further research, the results of this study indicate that parenting blogs, an important resource to parents, should be treated with caution as a health authority. Parents find great value in being able to discuss their fears and concerns with other parents, and blogs can serve as a way for parents to hear about breaking news that is quite relevant to them. However, a lack of credible sources indicates that parents should seek in-depth health formation from health outlets other than blogs


Open Access